4 Epiphany, February 3
After his baptism, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and to return to Galilee. The Spirit is divine love, apart from which Jesus can do nothing. He lives in the Spirit, and yet Jesus has deigned to be among sinners in a world of sin, among his own who reject him, among demons who taunt him.
“The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread’” (Luke 4:3) “The devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5). “The devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple” (Luke 4:9). Jesus was led by the devil, but not duped by the allure of worldly power, holding as he does all power and glory and honor forever and ever. Using words of Scripture in his defense, Jesus repelled the devil’s attack, and the devil departed until an opportune time. What a haunting phrase, until an opportune time! The Passion of Jesus Christ is ever present. John Donne said it most beautifully and painfully: “His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday were but the evening and the morning of one and the same day” (Christmas Sermon, 1626).
Jesus was opposed by the world he made and by his own people (John 1:10-11). Returning to his hometown of Nazareth, he entered the synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah. Returning the scroll to the attendant, Jesus sat down. “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Luke 4:20-22). Jesus read about good news to the poor, release to captives, the recovery of sight, the oppressed going free, and the arrival of the year of the Lord’s favor. Hearing that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled,” worshipers in the synagogue were lifted up by an ancient yearning. Is the kingdom at hand? Will God vindicate his people? Has our hour come?
Quickly, however, the crowd turned against Jesus. Reaching into their shared tradition, Jesus told the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath; he told the story of Elisha and Naaman the Syrian; he told the congregants what they already knew. God wills to save the world, including the foreigner. They heard this as a judgment against them, which in some sense it was, but it was also a judgment against religion as a sacred canopy erected to protect and buttress only one tribe or nation. Nations make rumors of war and lash out in war, and do so with a special vehemence when stoked by religion. The people of Nazareth attending their synagogue that day wanted what most religious people want. They wanted God to do their bidding; they wanted a transcendent justification for a long list of bad ideas and prejudices. They knew better and sometimes wanted better, but the devil led them too. The devil wants a vehement and narrow religion, one for each group and all contradictory.
Jesus is opposed even now because his outstretched arms include the whole world. In love, however — thanks be to God — he saves the ungodly, the unworthy, the lost.
Look It Up
Read Luke 4:28.
Think About It
Are you filled with rage? Pray for a contrite and broken heart.